As children we yearn to be grown-ups. As students we are constantly thinking about the day when we will have no essay deadlines and we can’t wait for that dream job we have studied for. However, it is not until we reach the end of our time at University that the reality of securing our dream job sets in. In a competitive job market, much like most graduates, the thought of finding my ideal job after finishing University was a daunting prospect.
After completing my master’s degree in Occupational Psychology, I started my first ‘career job’ as a Graduate Consultant at Sten10. I always thought I was quite lucky to be offered a job in my chosen field so early after finishing my degree, but after reflecting on my journey I realise that I have worked hard to get where I am and have learnt a lot along the way.
Everyone’s experience is unique, so instead of going into great detail about my own personal journey, I would love to share what I’ve learnt – with the hope of inspiring my peers and addressing any of the uncertainties that I know I had as a graduate.
Don’t be afraid to make ‘mistakes’
“If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” – Neil Gaiman
No experience is wasted. Before working as an intern at various business psychology/professional services firms, I had a whole host of jobs and volunteering positions. These included, Events Assistant, Welfare Officer, Sales Assistant, Cleaner, High Ropes Instructor, Cat Sitter, HR Administrator and Waitress – to name a few! Some of these experiences were more useful than others and some were definitely more enjoyable than others, but all of them have gotten me to where I am today.
I used to feel that I made a mistake ‘wasting’ time on non-career related roles. Studying for my MSc alongside younger students who were fresh from their undergraduate degree made me feel that I was falling behind in life, as I’d spent a lot of time working in between my BSc and MSc. However, now that I’m working in my chosen field, I have come to realise that my previous work experiences were not wasted time at all.
The experience you get before securing your ideal ‘career job’, won’t only help you to get that job, but will help you to do it well. Personally, my previous ‘irrelevant’ work experience helps me on a daily basis and aids in my understanding of client needs and challenges. Feeling like a well-rounded individual, I can approach corporate clients and executives with a sense of confidence, as I have already been out in the world and can be sure of my own applied knowledge. Each job, work experience and internship has been a stepping stone to the next and each has helped me on my way to becoming a working professional in business psychology. No opportunity is a mistake so take as many as you can.
Be bold, be brave
“Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.” – Bear Grylls
It is human nature to be scared of the unknown, and as one of those people who always had a plan, when faced with the prospect of not having a job lined up after graduation I got ‘the fear’! Upon realising that securing a graduate job, especially one in psychology, was going to be a long and uncertain road I began to panic and didn’t really know how to reach my goal.
Eventually I embraced my fear and found that it actually helped me in my pursuit of relevant work and experiences. I turned my fear into motivation and became a woman on a mission! This drive helped me secure ad-hoc project work for a small psychology consultancy, become a summer intern at one of the largest global professional services firms and carry out my dissertation research at another psychology consultancy.
Thanks to experiences such as these, finding a position post Uni became a lot easier. Securing a graduate job may be competitive and it may be difficult, but if you embrace your fear and use it to push yourself to get as much experience as you can, you will have nothing left to be fearful about.
Be open minded, be curious
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
After leaving University, I always thought I wanted to get onto a graduate programme in a big corporate and dreamt of moving up the ladder in a large professional services firm. It wasn’t until I started talking to Occupational Psychologists and doing various internships in a few different sized companies that I realised that when it comes to business psychology, this is not the only way to start a career in this field.
Sure, big corporates have their allure. You can become an expert in a specific area of the business, and as a graduate you’ll likely have the security of a well laid-out development plan. However, working in a smaller boutique consultancy has its benefits as well! It can sometimes feel like being thrown in at the deep end as there is so much going on. I am expected to get involved in all areas of the business, from consulting with clients, to assessment design, from project delivery to data analysis, I do it all.
Working in a smaller consultancy has given me the chance to experience all aspects of consultancy work and allowed me to direct my own learning and development. So, I say, be curious and explore what’s out there. Be open minded to different opportunities and don’t be afraid to explore what different types of organisations have to offer.
It’s not what you know, but who you know
I’ve always been told that you get opportunities through the people you know, not what you know. This never sat quite right with me when I was younger, as I was very aware that I didn’t know anyone! My parents do not work in the business world and coming from a town ‘Up North’ my connections in the City were somewhat lacking. Unfortunately for my previous student self however, in the business psychology world, I have found that the saying ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ to be true – to a certain extent.
I am not in any way saying that opportunities are only gained through connections, because they are not, you do need the relevant qualifications, knowledge and competence. However, I am saying that the business psychology world is its own community. Everyone seems to know everyone and great opportunities for work and experiences can be gained through building relationships and networking.
As a solid introvert I found approaching successful ‘career type’ people very daunting initially, but it was worth it. The relationships I have made and the networks I have started to build, from approaching a visiting lecturer at the end of a University workshop for example, have definitely been a helping hand on my way to my first business psychology role. So be brave and reach out to new people, as you never know what might come of those connections.
All in all, my advice to aspiring Business Psychologists starting out is, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, be brave, be open minded and network like crazy!